Ford Madox Ford on Writing

Being the colossal bore I am, today I started reading Ford’s neglected masterpiece of 1915, The Good Soldier. While I’ve only finished the first few chapters, I can safely say it’s about the most voluptuous and expressive prose I’ve ever encountered. Flaubert comes inevitably to mind, because each sentence, each word is so carefully chosen, and you know the author won’t settle for anything less than utter perfection.

Anyway, in the introduction there’s a quote from an essay Ford wrote in 1914 on the art of writing. I want to put it down here because I know it’s a passage I’ll want to return to again and again once I start writing my own masterpiece of a novel. He is describing how the writer should approach his audience:

To him, you will address your picture, your poem, your prose story, or your argument. You will seek to capture his interest; you will seek to hold his interest. You will do this by methods of surprise, of fatigue, by passages of sweetness in your language, by passages suggesting the sudden and brutal shock of suicide. You will give him passages of dullness, so that your bright effects may seem more bright; you will alternate, you will dwell for a long time upon an intimate point; you will seek to exasperate so that you may the better enchant. You will, in short, employ all the devices of the prostitute. If you are too proud for this you may be the better gentleman or the better lady, but you will be the worse artist….[T]he artist is, quite rightly, regarded with suspicion by people who desire to live in tranquil and ordered society.

That’s worth more than a whole semester of creative writing. I think I’ll tape it to my monitor and read it before every post I write.

The Discussion: 9 Comments

“You will, in short, employ all the devices of the prostitute.”

A beautiful, rhapsody upon the creativity of writing, one that distinguishes the constantly and truly dull and predictable scribe from the provocatively creative writer. Thanks for sharing that!

December 12, 2004 @ 9:15 pm | Comment

You may ask why I write and yet my resaons are quite many. For it is not unusaul in human beings who have witnessed the sack of a city, or the falling to pieces of a people to desire to set down what they have witnessed, for the benefit of unknown heirs of generations infinitely remote: or, if you please just to get the sight out of thier heads.

The Good Soldier Ford Maddox Ford

January 25, 2005 @ 2:58 pm | Comment

Dear Peking Duck,
When u have finished reading the good soldier, can u help me as i have 2 study this book + everything about FMF!
Thanks and looking forward to your criticism;etc…

June 12, 2005 @ 7:56 pm | Comment

I finished it months ago, but am not a scholar of FMF and wouldn’t be able to help you much. There are plenty of articles about it on the Web.

June 12, 2005 @ 7:59 pm | Comment

Did u like it? as i’m still waiting for delivery of the book, i was just impatient to know at least what others think of FMF and this book and its themes

June 12, 2005 @ 8:12 pm | Comment

It’s very difficult reading and I got impatient with some sections. The characters are all pretty creepy and there are no real heroes in the book. Personally I wouldn’t recommend it except as a study in writing style – in that respect, it’s perfect, like the work of Flaubert.

June 12, 2005 @ 8:16 pm | Comment

Every time I read this book I feel as if I’m reading it for the first time. It’s a story that bends to the mind of the reader, reshaping itself to fit the reader’s point of emotional and intellectual reference. Is it a silly comedy of social manners gone wrong? Or a study of the human heart as it traverses the various transitional phases from naivete to cynicism. I don’t know.

January 9, 2006 @ 10:23 am | Comment

I had read a long time a passage about a man having to have made love to a woman in order to have the conversations that he wants to have with her. I think it was FMF, but am not sure from which of his books. Is the above in the Good Soldier?

August 16, 2006 @ 11:26 am | Comment

It’s not from Good Soldier, and I’m not sure where it appers. It is quoted in the introduction to my copy of Soldier.

August 16, 2006 @ 5:35 pm | Comment

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